Writing as a Practice

Writing is as much as everything else a practice.  No, I don’t mean “practice” though, of course everything you ever write is practice for the next thing you write. And believe me, please, as someone who has 34 (I think I haven’t counted recently) novels out and whose volume of writing is at least double (and probably more) that, practice does matter.

But this is something different.  There will be days (also trust me on this) where you think you’re not getting better; everything you write seems like absolute drek; and there is no progress in acceptances or income or whatever you’re using to judge your progress.

These are the days to view writing as a practice.Here I must admit that I’m lousy at all contemplative disciplines, from the ones of my religion to stuff like “meditation.”  I’m the type of person who sits down to meditate and immediately finds grocery lists and how much laundry she has to do invading her mind. I’ve given up even attempting it years ago.

One can only take so many hours of pink monkeys (that we’re not supposed to think of) dancing and traipsing through one’s mind.

BUT writing as a practice is something different.

Look, there were reasons that monks of old, in monasteries, had set times to get up and pray, and times to work, and times to work at certain things, and times to move on to others.  To do so as a set routine frees the mind of expectations. It stops you thinking to yourself: look at that paragraph. What am I? Some kind of idiot? Those words are all twisted. And then it stops you going back and trying to fiddle with them instead of just writing.

But Sarah, you’ll say, why wouldn’t I want to edit as a I write. Well, for one, because it’s very rarely productive. It is easier to finish the thing, and then — with knowledge in mind of the whole of the thing — to read it over, fix for flow and plot, and THEN do a deep dive on wording and sense.

Otherwise, my experience is you end up with extremely stilted sentences that read as if each of them should be taken in absolute isolation. You also never finish anything, because you’re always reading “what I have so far.” (Lately I’ve fallen into this trap myself, so I’m not unique.)  Instead, not just at each session, but between sessions, don’t go back and read what you have. Just leave a note to yourself of where you left off.  Mine usually run something like: Left them in the pub. This is the last problem solved, this is the problem they’re working through. Remember to implant sense that Mr. Jager is not a good person.

If I’m writing every day — that writing as a practice thing again — I’m fine with that type of note. If I’m not, which is the issue recently, then I have to go back and read what I have so far, which means I very quickly lose touch with how someone coming at it for the first time will see it, and become obsessed with minutia no reader will notice.  And then I — and you in the same situation — take much too long to write anything, and have trouble finishing stuff.  Also the stuff you finish under those circumstances is likely to have clunkier pacing and odder phrasing.

So, writing as a practice: set a time you don’t expect to be interrupted (and try to arrange for it to be a time you don’t get interrupted) and then adhere to it.

In praying, at least, one is advised to ignore even the goofiest thoughts that go through one’s mind.  Do the same as writing. Above all, silence your inner editor. The first few days, he/she will be gibbering away and saying things like “Yeah, that’s brilliant.” And “Is that the best you can come up with, genius?”  ignore it. Your practice is to sit there x time and keep typing words in. Just type words in.  You can always fix it in post.

I discovered writing as practice (and have lost and rediscovered it a couple of times since) at a time when my life was so utterly uncertain I didn’t know where the next meal would come from or if we’d have roof over head next week.

The gibbering insanity in my head was so scary I couldn’t feel the writing, and trying to hold on to rules wasn’t helping at all.

So, I found some book by some new age writer that said “Hey, do it as your practice. Just do it.”  Mind you, she was talking about spiritual benefit. I was just trying to write and finish stuff and send it out so I didn’t feel completely useless.  Perhaps it’s not so different.

So for the next year — and then after things calmed down, just out of habit — I did writing as a practice.  Get up, sit at the desk by x time.  Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. Block off Fridays and evenings to revise. No revision at any other time.

Did it work?  Well the first fifty short stories I sold and now I think about it, the first five novels came from a time of using writing as a practice, a scheduled routine that happens regardless of how I feel or what else needs to be done.

And the first three short stories I sold were written in that first year, where I shouldn’t have been able to finish anything.

It worked for me as a bridge between insanity and productivity. In a weird way, it helped me calm down, it helped me feel I was being useful. It helped me grow past my fears.

Writing is scary enough. Every path is different. Every path is fraught with obstacles.

Do your self a favor. Write as a practice. Take the bridge.

 

18 comments

  1. Cue bad joke about doctors’ businesses are called a practice because they aren’t that good at doctoring. 😈

  2. “Remember to implant sense that Mr. Jager is not a good person.”

    Don’t worry. Many, many people who’ve escaped institutions of higher learning understand all too well that Meister Jager is a very, very bad person who speaks so smoothly at the party, and then kicks your hungover head for hours the next day…

  3. I find that 20 minutes or so after I quit for the day, my subconscious kicks out something I need for the plot. I jot it down on a notepad, then go on. I do not reopen the document and try to put it in. That leads to messes.

  4. I’m struggling to get back into my writing, and what I’m wrestling with is the order of the sentences. I keep thinking that’s a great line, but shouldn’t it come earlier in the scene?

    This has been plaguing me since Christmas.

      1. Clearly I’m in my editing headspace, and since I have a finished novel to edit I will focus on that. Thanks for the feedback guys, most appreciated.

  5. Practicing writing today is pretty hard. I’m having a cow, to put it mildly.

    But writing -anything- is better than looking at the damn internet today.

    So I’m writing. And maybe it’ll be shit, maybe I’ll have to take an ax to it later, but I’m still doing it.

  6. The year is not starting off well, writing-wise. But. When I’m not traveling, touristing, sick, in pain or on tramadol, the words are happening.

  7. There will be days (also trust me on this) where you think you’re not getting better…

    Oh, yes. Days, too, when it feels like I’ve forgotten how to write. Is it like riding a bicycle? Really? I have a feeling it isn’t. One can regress. And I dearly hope I’m not. But, as DWS says, a writer is the worst judge of her work. I agree that the only reasonable way to proceed is to simply write, give it my best, and be willing to be imperfect. Some days that is harder than others.

  8. I started writing every day on Jan 18th. It worked until the bradford pears bloomed, and then I came down sick; antihistamines are anethema to my creative voice. But as I’m recovering, I’m trying to get back to it again.

    Someday, “the end” will come. And I won’t have to wait on some prince to make it happen… just. write.

  9. -I’m the type of person who sits down to meditate and immediately finds grocery lists and how much laundry she has to do invading her mind.

    Same here. Emptying my mind is what I try to do to induce sleep. I succeed, to sleep, not meditate.

    Now, to sleep.

  10. I’m finding it hard to get back to my current work. It’s about a bioterrorism plot – certainly topical today.
    I finished review, made some notes, got ready to finish it – 2-3 weeks if I write on a NaNoWriMo schedule.
    I couldn’t do it. The fact that, if I manage to get it finished quickly, and get it out there, it has a chance of being noticed, has been paralyzing me. Even though, as I reviewed it, I kept saying to myself, this is really good.
    I’m switching my focus, gonna look at it as practice. Maybe that will take away the fear.

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